Saturday, October 31, 2009

Anderson braced for 'huge' tour

James Anderson flies out to South Africa this weekend warning his England colleagues to expect an even fiercer battle than this summer’s Ashes.

Australia may have won the Test series in South Africa earlier this year, before England regained the Ashes from Australia in thrilling fashion, but Anderson claims this winter’s hosts will provide as stern a test as there is in cricket at the moment.

The Proteas are widely regarded as the best side in the world - the International Cricket Council rankings back up that claim - and defeat at the hands of Australia ended a run of six successive series wins on home soil.

“It's up there with Australia in Australia as the toughest tour around,” said Anderson. “They're deservedly number one in the world and playing them in South Africa will be a huge test for us.

“They’re a very similar team to Australia; they’ve got a very strong captain in Graeme Smith and he brings the best out of his players.

“As we saw when they came over here last year, they’re a very strong side. They’re very difficult to beat and it’s going to be a hard challenge - much harder than this summer.”

Anderson speaks from personal experience. The 2008 Test series in England to which he refers saw Smith’s side triumph 2-1, while England’s most recent tour of South Africa in 2004-05 represented the nadir of Anderson’s international career.

England may have returned home celebrating a series win - the tour is nevertheless best remembered for Kevin Pietersen’s remarkable exploits in his debut one-day series - but for Anderson it brought little more than personal agony.

He played in only one Test, at the Wanderers, as a replacement for the injured Simon Jones and, in the words of Wisden, “had forgotten how to bowl”. Match figures of 2-149 saw him dropped for the final match.

“I don't want to play like that again,” said Anderson. “It was a tough tour because the team was settled, the bowling unit was settled, and then all of a sudden there’s an injury after three Tests.

“Having just bowled at a stump for five weeks, I wasn’t in a great place to play Test cricket.

“I’ve put that to one side now - that was the first part of my career. Hopefully I’ve started a new chapter and I’m a lot more settled in the team now. I’m a lot more confident as a bowler and much improved as well.”

While Anderson and company board the plane buoyed by their Ashes triumph, he claims their recent performances in the Champions Trophy in South Africa, when they reached the semi-finals, augur well for the one-day series which precedes the four Tests.

“Australia beat them in South Africa just before they came over here,” Anderson stressed. “We can take confidence from that and we can take a lot of confidence from the Ashes win.

“The Champions Trophy was huge for us too. We played brilliantly against Sri Lanka and South Africa and if we can recreate some of that form and just get that consistency, we can progress and develop as a one-day side.

“Having found some form in South Africa, it’s going to give us confidence going back there, having played in those conditions and knowing what to expect. We’re pretty confident and looking forward to it.”

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